I was fortunate to grow up in North London. When I was about 10 years old I attended the Youth Music Centre run by Kay and Manny Hurwitz. Every Saturday morning there was a cello class given by the dedicated pedagogue Christopher Bunting. He was a great thinker and teacher and loved to draw mechanical diagrams on the blackboard showing us all how our joints worked. My first concerto opportunity was with him conducting.
From 14, I used to get the bus over to Chelsea after school for lessons with Amaryllis Fleming. She had just been splashed all over the newspapers for advocating practising the cello in the nude! She certainly brought some glamour to the whole business. She used to smoke furiously during our lessons and scatter ash down over her Strad cello. One day the phone rang during our lesson and it was Pierre Fournier! “Have you got any talented young cellists who could come and play in my masterclass?” It was there that I met Ralph Kirshbaum who would become my teacher later. On that occasion he was just the warm-up act!
Later, when I had graduated, I took part in Sheila Nelson’s innovatory scheme teaching children in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where she pioneered bringing music into an under-privileged environment long before anyone had heard of El Sistema. From Sheila, you got the idea that any child could learn to make the right sort of free movements to play a string instrument.
I was probably one of the first wave of musicians who aspired to work in both the ‘authentic’ and ‘modern’ sphere, no easy task, though it’s much more common these days. I learnt a huge amount from sitting next to Jaap Ter Linden in Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, and I still love playing continuo cello. However, ultimately I felt that my musical voice worked better on a modern set-up cello. I felt that if I became a fully-fledged baroque cellist I would miss out on playing contemporary music and of course all those great late-romantic symphonies. And I am just too sold on using vibrato as an expressive tool.
I didn’t take up teaching seriously myself until I was in my thirties. It was only then that I began to feel I could integrate all my own experiences and offer them on to the next generation of aspiring cellists. It was also a good time to stop touring as I had married my violinist husband Richard Ireland and had two children.
Ultimately I missed being a freelance cellist, and I came back into the fray once my children could cook their own dinner, which since I’d managed to pass on a love of cooking, was when they were about 10 and 12. Recently, I have started to bump in to some of my ex- students out in the profession, which is so exciting and feels like completing the circle.